Local Hardware Stores Aim for the Future
Family-run businesses do what is needed to succeed for generations to come.
The original Briggs Hardware in 1865 before paved streets.
Photo courtesy Marcus Scruggs and Evelyn Murray
The hardwood floors always seemed oil-stained, and the change-eating vending machine housed ancient candy bars, but the local hardware store was a place of distinction in every small town in America. Kids became grownups among other grownups, listening to older gentlemen complain about the lack of rain and talk about the most recent watershed meeting. Most folks were only there after a few ounces of 2-stroke engine oil or something similar, but going down to the hardware store was an escape for fathers and mothers and neighborly country folk with similar interests – and the kids always relished tagging along. And every time someone’s change got lost in those stale candy machines, it was no big deal, the owner and only person who worked there would flip another coin from his register without a second thought. Trips to those local hardware stores were, and still are today, oftentimes more about community than the hardware.
Descendants of the countrywide network of general stores from the 1800s and reaching their heyday in the 1920s, hardware stores laced the nation, capturing neighborhoods and linking communities. By the late 1960s, Main Street America had begun to shrivel, and the country was tossing community hardware stores aside in favor of national big-box stores, with their seemingly endless variety and low prices. Yet, despite all this progress, the community hardware store has managed to keep afloat with a solid grip across Hometown U.S.A.
Revered Raleigh relic
One top-of-the-line hardware store, The Thomas H. Briggs General Store, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, keeps pulling its weight and has survived since it opened in 1865.
“Our family survived the Great Depression,” says owner Evelyn Murray.
“And we adapted to a changing hardware industry plus a location transformation,” adds brother and co-owner Mark Scruggs.
Simply put, hardware stores help create and maintain a community atmosphere. “We help keep the neighborhoods like they used to be. And we provide good service to our customers,” Murray says. “At the same time, we offer specialties that the box stores don’t.”
The brother and sister team handle the day-to-day operations with their father, Marcus Scruggs.
“It’s cool to be a part of something like this,” Murray says. “Working with family is tough, but it defines who we are.”
“T.H. was quite the carpenter and builder,” says Mark Scruggs. “Customers would travel for hours to shop with us. We were the only toy store to offer layaway before J.C. Penney came to town.”
According to family lore, Thomas H. Briggs exchanged his Confederate money for gold and buried it in Devereaux Meadow, a landscape close to downtown Raleigh, to keep it safe until the war was over. Trees were used as markers. “When the time was right, Granddaddy dug to find the hidden money,” says Scruggs. “In 1874, Briggs built a family-run four-story hardware store on Fayetteville Street that was the tallest building in Raleigh. The store remained in business for the next 100 years, and today stands as the oldest commercial building in the downtown area.
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